There was a time when Meherunnisa Shaukat Ali couldn't wait to be a bride. Then two things happened to change her plans: her father lost a lot of the family's money trading shares, and she grew tired of people making fun of how skinny she was.
So Meherunnisa joined a gym, gained some muscles, and got a job.
Not just any job – she became a female bouncer in Delhi.
Now Meherunnisa's sister Tarannum too works as a bouncer. Tarannum usually accompanies her to provide security at events during the day. Usually, the women escort celebrities and other VIPs to malls, and appear at other public events. They earn approximately Rs 500 a day.
By night, Meherunnissa works at the Hauz Khas café and bar, Social. She is the third of four sisters, and earns Rs 15,000 a month for her job at the Delhi bar.
“I love my job," she said. "What’s better than earning and being independent, especially when you come from such a conservative background?”
Meherunnisa's shift at Social begins at 7 in the evening, and usually continues until one in the morning. It took some time for her father to accept the fact that she would leave for work every evening, and return late at night.
“I remember how angry he was when he first heard," Meherunnissa recalled. "His face was fierce and red. But then, he understood that I am earning for the family and I am not doing anything that is ethically wrong.”
Her father, Shaukat Ali, seated in a corner of the house, turned up the volume of their television set.
Meherunnissa’s mother Shashi Kala Mishra (or Shama Parveen, as she is known after marriage) has always been proud of her daughter. Her sons, she said, abandoned the family once they found work – but not Meherunnissa.
“My daughter is not cheating or stealing," Shama said. "She is doing the job of a man, my sons don’t even visit us now. I am proud of her."
Meherunnisa still has the same loves she had earlier – she likes putting henna on her hands, wearing bangles, serving food to guests who visit their home. More than any of these things though, she loves how confident her work has made her.
“I feel respected and useful today," she said. "I feel proud that I am able to serve my family. If I can have faith and go beyond gender roles, so can anyone else.”